JSA Legacies: No. 12 – Wonder Woman


Wonder Woman – in all her guises

Wonder Woman marks another problem. For one, there is her anomalous status within the Forties Justice Society of America: a guest in All-Star 11, taken on as secretary in issue 12 and, two early adventures aside, a permanent onlooker, frequently appearing in only a single panel, for years. Even when the Amazing Amazon finally started getting into the act properly, in All-Star 40, there was never any time when she was granted membership.
The bigger issue is that Wonder Woman was one of the Big Three, the Trinity, the three archetypal heroes for whom there was no break, no discontinuity, but continuous publication that spanned the Golden and Silver Ages, that spanned Earths 1 and 2, before and after they were created. Wonder Woman is one of the unchanging ones, the primal three who, no matter what twists and turns and occasional changes will be made, will always be the one version.
A decade ago I wrote an unpublished essay, poking fun at the convoluted state of affairs that had come into being, whereby there had been a total of five Wonder Womans at that point, but of which three of them had been Princess Diana (errr…) of the Amazons.
I’m tempted to copy and paste it here, although any updating of it would now have to recognise seven Wonder Womans, five of them Diana. But it’s not of a piece with this series, so I will deal with the character in a straightforward manner, though in rather less depth than usual.
Whatever her standing as a Forties member, Wonder Woman is indelibly linked with the JSA, having made her first appearance in All-Star 8, in an unrelated bonus story. She was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston, under his pen-name Charles Moulton, and drawn by artist Harry G. Peter, Marston’s personal choice (over the objections of Charlie Gaines at All-American), although Peter’s contract did not allow him to claim any creative aspect.
Marston, who had already played a large role in creating the Lie Detector Test, was a free-thinker who espoused the principles of free love and of bondage/submission as a cure for human violence (a course he advocated freely through his creation: those old Wonder Woman stories are seriously weird-in-a-not-good way). Wonder Woman came about in part due to the early backlash about comics, their violence and their overall suitability for kids.
Marston advised All-American that they needed a female superhero, to introduce loving authority into their comics. Gaines invited him to create such a character, and agreed a deal whereby Marston retained a proprietary interest in the Amazon: should All-American/National/DC fail to publish her for one month, the rights would revert to Marston or his heirs. Marston originally named his creation Suprema, but Sheldon Mayer replaced it with Wonder Woman.
Marston created his character out of myth. The Amazons, under their Queen, Hyppolita, had retreated from the world to hidden Amazon Island, where they lived in peace and were perfect specimens of womanhood. Hyppolita, a beautiful blonde, longed for a child: the Gods instructed her to form a baby from the clay of the riverbank, into which they breathed life, creating Diana, the best Amazon ever.
In 1941, an American plane, containing Colonel Steve Trevor, crashed through the barriers surrounding Amazon Island. Diana saw, and fell irreversibly in love with, the first man she saw. After learning of the War in Man’s World, Hyppolita decided to send an Amazon representative there, to spread peace. She organised a competition to find a worthy winner, but forbade Diana to take part. Diana entered wearing a mask (that would have fooled no-one) and won. Reluctantly, Hyppolita gave way and allowed her daughter to don the special costume that had been made for the winner – coincidentally consisting of a bustier red top decorated by the American Eagle and blue culottes, decorated with silver stars, just like the American flag.
Diana then ventured into Man’s World with Col. Trevor. Almost immediately, she met Army Nurse Diana Prince, who was identical to her and who was crying because she couldn’t get to the West Coast to be with her fiancé. So Diana gave her the money and took Miss Prince’s ID, to be near her beloved Steve.
The following week, Wonder Woman’s regular series started in the first issue of All-American’s new anthology title, Sensation Comics. Sheldon Mayer had her added to the next JSA story in preparation, in which the JSA disbanded to go to War and Wonder Woman subbed for the Spectre, and invited the kids to vote on her as the Justice Society’s first girl member.
Before the votes came in, narrowly in favour, Gaines had decided that Wonder Woman was big enough to get her own title – faster than anyone before her – which debarred her from membership. So, rather than have her elected directly to Honorary Membership, which would have been silly, Mayer added her as Secretary, which was merely demeaning.
As I’ve already said, it took until All-Star 40 to get Wonder Woman into the action regularly, and by the JSA’s final appearance in issue 57, she was the only member appearing anywhere else, in her solo title, Sensation having bitten the dust as well by then.
Wonder Woman stayed in publication throughout the Fifties. After Marston’s death in 1947, the series was taken over by Robert Kanigher, who softened the bondage elements and, indeed, trivialised the series out of all recognition. I’ve recently had the experience of reading Kanigher’s last two years of work on the title which, according to all I’ve heard, is of a kind with what he’d been doing for years, and it’s underpinned by what I can only describe as utter contempt, for the character and the reader alike. Hardly surprising that, for decades, the series sold terribly, being kept alive by the reversion deal that would have cost National all its lucrative licensing rights.
At some, unidentifiable, point, the series stopped being about Wonder Woman 1, of Earth-2 and became that of Wonder Woman 2, of Earth-1 (see, it’s starting to get crazy already). Wonder Woman 2 was a founder member of the Justice League of America in Brave & Bold 27, and a regular in the series until 1969.
The two versions of Wonder Woman were identical up to that time. The Earth-2 Wonder Woman didn’t appear in any team-ups with the Justice League until 1967, and tended not to appear very often, because no-one could tell the difference, except during the period from 1969 to 1972 when, under Mike Sekowsky’s editorship, the Earth-1 Wonder Woman lost her powers, pulled her hair back into a pony-tail, dressed in white jacket and trousers and took on crime as a Diana Rigg/Emma Peel figure.
When this version failed, Wonder Woman regained her powers but had to undergo a twelve-issue Labours of Diana trial, each supervised by a different JLA member before the League would take her back. Then the series switched to World War 2 and the Golden Age Wonder Woman for a few years, until the success of the TV series and Lynda Carter jumped it back to the present day. In any guise, it continued to flounder.
In the Eighties, her costume, which had undergone periodic minor changes – culottes to tight shorts, boots to laced Grecian sandals, shorts to cycle shorts, back to boots, cycle shorts to swimsuit bottoms – underwent a major and permanent change at the request of a major women’s foundation, with the American Eagle replaced by a stylised WW logo across the most famous breasts in comicdom.
Also, Roy Thomas brought the Golden Age Wonder Woman up to date in Infinity, Inc, showing her as older, married to Steve Trevor, and with a teenage daughter, Lyta, who became the superheroine The Fury.
However, both these Wonder Womans were swept aside in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Earth-2 version being elevated to Godhood, together with her Steve Trevor, as part of the Greek Pantheon, and the Earth-1 version having her chronal pathway reversed, all the way back to the clay of the riverbed.
So, from two all-but identical Wonder Womans, we were down to none. Like the rest of the Trinity, DC were set on a total reboot for Wonder Woman, this time by plotter/artist George Perez. Perez retained the shape of Wonder Woman’s origin but produced a stronger mythic bedrock: Amazon Island became Themiscyra, Hyppolita black-haired not blonde, the Amazons were now the reincarnation of women murdered in hate by men, and Diana was the soul of the child of the only one (Hyppolita) who died pregnant.
Steve Trevor was reimagined as a man in his early Fifties, removing at a stroke the romantic entanglement that had been so hideously and embarrassingly used for so many decades (especially by Kanigher). Diana entered Men’s World as an innocent, with no need of a secret identity, as an Ambassador of Peace.
Wonder Woman 3 (still Diana, although in context, the first Diana of one) was of a different order to her predecessors. The series became a top-seller for the first time since the Forties, and deservedly so.
The removal of a Forties Wonder Woman from continuity left the JSA without a secretary. By a retcon, strongwoman Miss America was eased into that role and all those adventures, though very few stories were told, or retold, with her in that role. It would be superseded in the late Nineties by another, more pertinent retcon.
The new Wonder Woman briefly joined Justice League Europe but tended to go her own way, not returning to a Justice League role until the 1997 reboot. Before this, there were a couple of changes.
After Perez, Bill Messner-Loebs took over as Wonder Woman writer. For issue 0, he had Diana back on Themiscyra whilst Hyppolita re-enacted the contest to be Wonder Woman, only for Diana to be beaten this time by Artemis, a fierce fighter from a more warrior-like strain of Amazons. Artemis went out in Men’s World in the Wonder Woman costume (Wonder Woman 4). She was a full-figured woman with a spectacularly long red ponytail and impossibly long legs (a product of the prevalent artistic ‘styles’).

Artemis

However, Diana did not take her demotion lying down, and returned herself to Man’s World, without powers, this time dressed in dark blue: jacket, bra and cycle-shorts.
As Wonder Woman 0 followed issue 93, the imminent arrival of the anniversarial 100 suggested Artemis would not be a long-term character, and she duly died in battle in that issue, allowing Diana to resume her rightful role.
Surprisingly, not for long. Incoming writer/artist John Byrne was quick to kill Diana – who was translated to the Greek Pantheon. This time she was replaced by Queen Hyppolita, acting out of guilt over her role in Diana’s death. In honour of her senior status, the Queen’s dignity was preserved by her wearing a star-spangled, but still abbreviated skirt instead of the bathing suit bottom.

Hyppolita

Wonder Woman 5 did not last long either (Diana proved to be very unsuited to be a Goddess and wanted back), but did last long enough to go back in time to the Forties with Jay (Flash) Garrick to help him resolve a newly-recollected matter. Jay returned almost immediately, but Hyppolita stayed on an extra half-hour, during which she lived Wonder Woman’s entire Forties career as it had originally happened – bye bye Miss America(n pie) – and set the temporal record on its head.
Though Wonder Woman 5, Hyppolita thus became Wonder Woman 1 (in post-Crisis continuity) as well as Wonder Woman 3 in DC history, whilst Diana now turned out to have been named Wonder Woman due to memories of the Forties career her mother had whilst continuing Diana’s career. Don’t worry, it all makes sense to comics’ fans.
I’m going to draw a veil over the following decade of Wonder Woman’s career, in which changes have occurred (including a radical change of costume that everybody knew was never going to last). But post New 52, we have yet another Wonder Woman, who is yet again a variation on Diana, who we may as well call Wonder Woman 6, and a quickly-killed alternate Diana/Wonder Woman (7) in Earth-2.
There is obviously far more to write about the legacy of Wonder Woman but, excepting those two brief interpolations of Artemis and Hyppolita, neither of whom were ever more than just interpolations, it is one woman and one character’s story. There is no real legacy to be discussed here, any more than there is for Superman or Batman.

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